When Christians Disagree

I took a short time-out to read Francis Schaeffer on the topic of Christian disagreements and love. The time-out was well spent as he offered refreshing and much needed advice.

In part, Schaeffer explained how Christians must show the love of Christ through disagreements even to the point of suffering for each other. The quote below is longer than I might I normally share, but is well worth the read.

What happens, then, when we must differ with other brothers in Christ because of the need also to show forth God’s holiness either in doctrine or in life? In the matter of life, Paul clearly shows us the balance in I and II Corinthians. The same thing applies in doctrine as well.

First, in I Corinthians 5:1-5 he scolds the Corinthian church for allowing a man in the midst of fornication to stay in the church without discipline. Because of the holiness of God, because of the need to exhibit this holiness to a watching world, and because such judgment on the basis of God’s revealed law is right in God’s sight, Paul scolds the church for not disciplining the man.

After they have disciplined him, Paul writes again to them in II Corinthians 2:6-8 and scolds them because they are not showing love toward him. These two things must stand together.

I am thankful that Paul writes this way in his first letter and his second, for here you see a passage of time. The Corinthians have taken his advice, they have disciplined the Christian, and now Paul writes to them, “You’re disciplining him, but why don’t you show your love toward him?” He could have gone on and quoted Jesus in saying, “Don’t you realize that the surrounding pagans of Corinth have a right to say that Jesus was not sent by the Father because you are not showing love to this man that you properly disciplined?”

A very important question arises at this point: How can we exhibit the oneness Christ commands without sharing in the other man’s mistakes? I would suggest a few ways by which we can practice and show this oneness even across the lines where we must differ.

First, we should never come to such difference with true Christians without regret and without tears. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Believe me, evangelicals often have not shown it. We rush in, being very, very pleased, it would seem at times, to find other men’s mistakes. We build ourselves up by tearing other men down. This can never show a real oneness among Christians.

The world must observe that, when we must differ with each other as true Christians, we do it not because we love the smell of blood, the smell of the arena, the smell of the bullfight, but because we must for God’s sake. If there are tears when we must speak, then something beautiful can be observed.

Second, in proportion to the gravity of what is wrong between true Christians, it is important consciously to exhibit a seeable love to the world. Not all differences among Christians are equal. There are some that are very minor. Others are overwhelmingly important.

The more serious the wrongness is, the more important it is to exhibit the holiness of God, to speak out concerning what is wrong. At the same time, the more serious the differences become, the more important it becomes that we look to the Holy Spirit to enable us to show love to the true Christians with whom we must differ. If it is only a minor difference, showing love does not take much conscious consideration. But where the difference becomes really important, it becomes proportionately more important to speak for God’s holiness. And it becomes increasingly important in that place to show the world that we still love each other.

So let us consider this: Is my difference with my brother in Christ really crucially important? If so, it is doubly important that I spend time upon my knees asking the Holy Spirit, asking Christ, to do his work through me and my group, that I and we might show love even in this larger difference that we have come to with a brother in Christ or with another group of true Christians.

Costly Love
Third, we must show a practical demonstration of love in the midst of the dilemma even when it is costly. The word love should not be just a banner. In other words, we must do whatever must be done, at whatever cost, to show this love. We must not say, “I love you,” and then — bang, bang, bang!

The Bible does not make these things escapable. I Corinthians 6:1-7 reads,

If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother goes to law against another — and this in front of unbelievers! The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?

What does this mean? The church is not to let pass what is wrong; but the Christian should suffer practical, monetary loss to show the oneness true Christians should have rather than to go to court against other true Christians, for this would destroy such an observable oneness before the watching world. This is costly love, but it is just such practicing love that can be seen.

Paul is talking about something which is observable, something that is very real: The Christian is to show such love in the midst of a necessary difference with his brother that he is willing to suffer loss — not just monetary loss (though most Christians seem to forget all love and oneness when money gets involved) but whatever loss is involved.

A fourth way we can show and exhibit love without sharing in our brother’s mistake is to approach the problem with a desire to solve it, rather than with a desire to win. We all love to win. In fact, there is nobody who loves to win more than the theologian. The history of theology is all too often a long exhibition of a desire to win.

But we should understand that what we are working for in the midst of our difference is a solution — a solution that will give God the glory, that will be true to the Bible, but will exhibit the love of God simultaneously with his holiness. What is our attitude as we sit down to talk to our brother or as group meets with group to discuss differences? If there is any desire for love whatsoever, every time we discuss a difference, we will desire a solution and not just that we can be proven right.
~Francis Schaeffer, The Mark of the Christian, p. 26-30.

(Photo: freeimages.com/Jon Ng)

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tagged as , , in Christianity,Church Issues,Gospel,theology

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 jonstallings November 20, 2013 at 10:53 pm

Great post Mark, this also seems to apply to Christians who want to lash out against other Christians or Churches for their failures. Seems like we could do a lot more by leading with love than talking about the shortcomings of other believers.

2 Mark Lamprecht November 21, 2013 at 10:14 am

jonstallings I agree, but there is a nuance, generally speaking, in the situation you state. Of course, our purpose should not be a lash out for the sake of lashing out. The above advice should also apply to those Christians in their failures in how they reply to those who speak out. Grace is a two-way street and it would be great if both parties took the high ground and considered what the other side has to say.

3 jonstallings November 21, 2013 at 10:49 am

Mark Lamprecht You right Mark, we all need to live a life of grace to all.


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